Friday, March 26, 2010

Saying Goodbye

{Grandma and Grandpa with their nine kids; taken on their 75th wedding anniversary, November 2009}

For days after Grandpa's death, his memory took center stage in my mind: I could still hear his rough and cheerful voice in my head, still feel his soft, bony fingers, still feel the rough brush of his whiskers on my face when I kissed him. I could still see him, tottering around, his slippered feet shuffling along. I could still hear his chuckle, see the tears in his eyes when he talked about how proud he was of me, still feel the bones in his back through his plaid flannel button-down when I hugged him. It's slipping away now, and I find myself mourning all over again. The tighter I try to hold these memories, the faster they seem to fall through my fingers.

{Grandpa's saddle, hat, walking stick, and brand.  He traded the saddle for the walking stick several years back when riding became too uncomfortable.  He still chased his cows up until a couple years ago.  They called him the Walking Cowboy.}

I have mixed feelings about an open casket viewing, but Grandpa looked peaceful and just like himself. It was so odd to see him lying there, stretched out in a gorgeous pine wood casket, so still in crisp white clothes.  I found comfort in their subtle reminder of the resurrection, of faith, of the promise of reunion and eternal family.  In the same moment, though, I missed seeing his plaid flannel button-downs, his thick suspenders, his wrangler jeans, his cowboy boots, his cowboy hat.  I missed his large glasses and his watery blue eyes.  

{Grandpa, many years ago.  His hand got injured when a horse kicked it.  Ouch.}

Before they closed the casket, Grandpa's posterity took turns gathering around him in groups to say goodbye.  I touched his hand.  It was cold and smooth.  I missed his soft, seemingly frail fingers that had always gripped mine with firm tenacity.  

Grandma was the last to say goodbye.  I will always remember her, too sick to stand unaided, clutching his hand and the side of the casket, trembling with exertion as she tried to lean over to kiss him one last time.  My dad gently raised Grandpa's head and shoulders, and Grandma kissed the face of the man she had kissed a thousand thousand times before, now just a shell.  I could see how it pained her, and it pained me.  

{Grandma and Grandpa on their 60th anniversary} 

The funeral was beautiful. Truly. All of the thoughts and stories shared were in turns touching and laugh-out-loud funny. And some were random.  (Have I mentioned that my family is random? Apparently it's genetic.) It was great, though, because all of the randomness and the funny-ness and the sentimental-ness created a series of poignant snapshots from the life of this man who had brought all of us together. Time and time again, throughout the service, I found myself thinking, My grandpa is so cool. He really is. He was elected mayor of his town without even running--people just wrote his name in on the ballot. He drove a school bus when he was younger to supplement his ranching income, and that was how he met Grandma: she was a student on his bus. He only had an eighth grade education, but every one of his nine kids went to college.  He said, "My dad used to say, 'You can no more do that than go to the moon.'  And I have seen a piece of the moon."  As one speaker stated, there are two kinds of people: those who loved Grandpa, and those who didn't know him.  The meanest thing my dad ever heard Grandpa say was, "You old reprobate!"--and that was to a stubborn, sullen cow.  He and Grandma were married for more than 75 years. Seventy-five years! Theirs is an epic, yet quiet, love, not often demonstrated in fiery bursts of passion, but in the slow, steady dedication of a lifetime.

{19 of the 29 grandkids practicing for a musical number}

My dad was the concluding speaker. While everyone did a great job, it was his remarks that touched me the most. He is such a tender, good man.  My sister and I (along with at least half of the audience, I am sure) were a teary mess.  We were able to regain some composure during a beautiful violin solo by my cousin Stacia and some concluding remarks by my Uncle Gary.  I glanced at the "be strong and of a good courage" sticker on the back of my hand (as a sweet gesture, my mom, knowing how difficult it is to participate in a funeral, wordlessly gave a sticker to all of us who were on the program.  It may have looked silly, but I think it united and strengthened us).  Then Sara and I walked to the podium to sing the closing song.

For those of you who have not sung at a funeral before, it is an interesting experience.  You can't allow yourself to think about the deceased, to look at the people crying.  You have to step outside of yourself, to lock away your grief, to avoid thinking about what and why you're singing.  It is an undesirable privilege, a selfless act, a final gift.  

{Practicing before the service}

We sang a beautiful, fitting folksong called Homeward Bound.  It was not a flawless performance.  We sang a capella.  The song felt naked and raw to me, but it was pure and heartfelt.  Sara and I had each sung the song to our grandparents on various occasions, but the reason it made the program was because of my sister.  When Grandpa lay sick in the hospital, a day or two before his death, both Sara and I called my dad.  He held up the phone so Grandpa could hear us tell him we loved him.  Sara, always thoughtful, asked if she could sing for him.  So Dad put her on speaker phone and held it by Grandpa's ear and listened as she sang Homeward Bound.  The family gathered around the bedside wept at the fitting lyrics, the haunting melody, and Sara's sweet sincerity, intact despite clipped bandwidths and poor speakers.  In an effort to recreate that tender moment, she was asked to sing it, a capella, for the service.  I sang with her.  Somehow, miraculously, we made it through without tears.  

{The pink roses represented Grandma; the red were for Grandpa}

After the closing prayer, we filed out of the chapel and drove to the cemetery.  I am using the term "cemetery" loosely, as it's actually just a relatively small, fenced parcel of land that used to be the burial plot for a now-ghost town.  Several ancestors are buried there, so that's where most of Grandpa's family has chosen to rest in peace.  It is a beautiful place, but also wild and untamed.  Surrounded by red, rocky foothills, sage brush and scrub oak, there are no manicured lawns or orderly plots.  

{The view from Grandpa's resting place}

{My family, minus Sara, at the grave site}

{Jay and I at the luncheon}

It was a draining, sad, difficult day.  But it was beautiful, too.  The weather that morning was dreary and dangerous--snow made the roads all but impassable--but later, the sun broke through the gloom, the clouds dissipated and the snow began to melt.  It was a beautiful reminder of the healing of souls and of the joy that follows a night of weeping, a comforting metaphor for our loss.


  1. What a beautiful memory. I hope you don't mind me reading it. It reminds me of the funeral we just went to fro Blake's Grandma. Funerals make me want to be better. It's so interesting how they can lift us up even though it's sad to see loved ones go.

  2. Isn't it amazing how much of a miracle a family is?

    Thank you for sharing more about your beloved grandpa.

    ((hugs)) and love always,

  3. I think that is really cool that your grandpa was elected mayor and he wasnt officially on the ballot, just a write in. Says a lot about his character. Love it

  4. That was a beautiful description of the funeral. Thanks for sharing and putting it into pictures, words and images. Great to see your family and be together to remember such a great man. Take good care,
    Michelle and family

  5. K, your whole entry had me in a sobbing mess. You are such a strong woman, and I have loved you for it since the day we first met. You are amazing, and I love you.

  6. Lindsay you had me fighting back tears with this post! I'm grateful for a friend who truly loved her grandpa so much. I'm sorry you had to go through such a difficult time. I know what you mean about forgetting someone or something you love. You will never completely forget him. He lives in your actions of kindness and goodness. My heart goes out to you.